MLB Comeback Player of the Year: A bullpen legend squares off with a couple rejuvenated aces
Legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is one of the favorites for the award. After suffering a season-ending injury in April of 2012, the future Hall of Fame lock decided that's not how he wanted his career to end, and came back to put together a damn fine 2013 season. He finished this year with a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves, and was one of the surprisingly few bright spots on the Yankees' roster.
Another player who should definitely get some votes is Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano. He was one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball when he began his career with the Twins as the 2nd half of a formidable 1-2 punch with Johan Santana. However, after missing the entire 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery, he hasn't ever been quite the same. Until this year, that is. He'll probably get a few Cy Young votes, after going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 161 innings.
Last but not least, Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey will be another strong candidate. He was the ace of the Angels' staff for years, before signing a free agent contract with the Red Sox before the 2010 season. 2010 was underwhelming, and then his 2011 season was arguably the worst ever for a full-time starting pitcher. Late in the year, he had Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2012 season. Still, he came back strong in 2013 with a 116 ERA+ in 29 starts, helping stabilize the Red Sox rotation and helping propel them to the playoffs. His 10-13 won/loss record is a result of atrocious run support. The Red Sox were shutout in 6 of Lackey's starts, and scored 3 or less runs 10 other times when he took the mound. They averaged 3.72 runs worth of run support for Lackey, despite averaging 5.26 runs per game over the course of the season.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Lackey. In the past two seasons, he was the worst pitcher in baseball, and then out for the year. This year, he was being mentioned as a potential Game 1 playoff starter.
WHO WILL WIN: Rivera. He's a legend, and his comeback was far more publicized than basically any other story in baseball. I'd still go with Lackey, but you can never complain about a great player like Mo picking up another award.